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Orioles could use a lesson in sports marketing
December 8, 2013
On the same frenzied Friday that the Seattle Mariners reeled in free agent superstar Robinson Cano with a $240 million contract and several other teams made major free agent acquisitions, the Orioles signed an unheralded middle reliever, surrendered outfielder Nate McLouth and pitcher Scott Feldman without a fight, and began informing season-ticket holders that prices are going up.
Throw in the highly unpopular Jim Johnson deal earlier in the week, and it's clear that this offseason if off to a bang-up start.
The fact that the Washington Nationals signed McLouth and the lowly Houston Astros gave Feldman $30 million is not exactly a sign of the apocalypse, but in a sports world where appearances matter, the Orioles seem unwilling to make even a cursory attempt to compete for quality talent outside the organization.
Manager Buck Showalter pointed out in a Q&A with The Baltimore Sun this weekend that “there's a lot of offseason left,” but three years after he was promised he could have a “Let's go” moment, the Orioles suddenly appear to be going backward.
Of course, the modest signings of right-hander Ryan Webb and nontendered reserve outfielder Francisco Peguero this weekend and the decision not to aggressively attempt to retain two veteran free agents cannot be directly linked to the hike in season-ticket prices.
The decision to raise season-ticket prices by an average of about 5 percent and change the way single-game tickets are priced is made at a different organizational level, but the timing of all this is enough to make a marketing consultant jump off the Warehouse.
To be fair, that timing is coincidental, and the O's have not bumped up season-ticket rates for several years. The club's new “dynamic” pricing plan has been in the works for a while, and season ticket mailers — which went out on Friday — have to be delivered before the holidays.
The decision to jettison Johnson's salary obligation with a thin trade also was made in the face of a deadline for tendering contracts to arbitration-eligible players, though the Orioles could have waited and gambled that they could get more for him during spring training.
It's unfortunate that the franchise has found itself in a perfect storm of bad public relations, but it's not like the front office couldn't have seen it coming.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette has spent the past month packing the roster with anonymous players and — as has become an Orioles custom — apparently waiting to see which veteran free agents nobody else wants.
Maybe Duquette and the Angelos family will have the last laugh and prove that the Orioles are way smarter than their well-heeled division rivals, but fans have every right to wonder what exactly is their plan to compete for the American League East title.
Owner Peter Angelos said Thursday that the team is doing the best it can in a market with limited revenue potential, but it gets harder and harder to make that case when other teams in similarly sized markets manage to spend significantly more money and don't appear close to filing for bankruptcy.
The irony of the “dynamic” pricing plan is that one of the teams the Orioles will leverage by increasing single-game ticket prices is the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals, who play in a very similar market and spend about $25 million more annually on player salaries.
The focus of the premium single-game pricing is always the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, but fans who wait to buy tickets to see the interleague games against the Nationals also will pay more, which has to be galling to a Washington franchise that already helps support the Orioles by paying more to field an attractive team while getting a much smaller fraction of the revenues from their jointly held regional television network.
The proof will be in the final payroll. Duquette has been saying for the past five days that the Johnson deal was simply an attempt to reallocate the club's resources to position it better to fill its offseason needs.
It's hard to say exactly what that means. The O's have been relieved of Brian Roberts' $10 million salary and just pared more than $10 million by shedding the 2013 salaries of Johnson, McLouth and Feldman. They will have to give big raises to arbitration-eligible Matt Wieters and Chris Davis but should be able to afford a quality left fielder or designated hitter, if they can locate one.
The Orioles don't broadcast their budget, so there's no way to know for sure how much revenue the franchise brings in and how much will be spent this year. Last year's payroll started out at $92 million and increased with several midseason acquisitions.
Based on the club's own good tidings about 2013 attendance, television ratings and merchandise sales, it would be fair for fans to expect some increase in spending, but based on the noise coming out of the Warehouse this winter, that might not be a fair assumption.
Sometimes, it seems like the front office is just tone deaf. Angelos, Duquette and whoever else might be calling shots in the organization need to remember one of the unwritten rules of sports marketing.
If you want people to drink the Kool-Aid, you have to put some sugar in it.
By Joel Sherman
December 7, 2013
No one learns.
How many years in a row can we say (fill-in-the-blank free agent) will not get the money because the industry has absorbed the lessons of the past and won’t do these mega-long deals — only to see fill-in-the-blank get the deal?
This year, Robinson Cano was fill-in-the-blank. And the Mariners were this year’s team with the confluence of reasons — desperation and deep pockets — to ignore the inefficiency of free agency, to go where we were told no team would go.
Cano was not going to get 10 years. He was not going to get $200 million. Except he did. He actually got more — 10 years at $240 million, which ties him for the most ever given a major leaguer from the non-Alex Rodriguez division. So now Seattle fans who have spent more than a decade booing A-Rod for fleeing for the big money will cheer Cano for doing the same, just to come to the Great Northwest.
“I thought after [Albert] Pujols [10 years for $240 million] went so wrong, so quickly, turned into such instant garbage, such a horror show, that the industry had finally learned,” an NL executive said. “I really did think it was the tipping point.”
It wasn’t. Cano won’t be either. Clayton Kershaw just might get a $300 million deal before this offseason is complete. We always will see the pressure points move teams to extend beyond a comfort zone. The Marlins had a new stadium opening. The Tigers have an aging owner in faulty health who wants to win now. The Angels have an over-arching strategy to win the Southern California market from the Dodgers. The Dodgers have new owners who weren’t going to let that happen. The Yankees have their history to honor.
The Mariners were motivated by a variety of reasons to make Cano an offer he couldn’t refuse — $65 million beyond the Yankees’ best and final, a number that made even most Yankees officials agree he couldn’t reject it. The Mariners had plummeting attendance and rising irrelevancy both locally and nationally. They had been humiliated publicly by several big-time hitters who wanted nothing to do with a bad offensive park and as remote a locale as exists on the major league landscape.
Seattle recognized a premium above the norm had to be paid to convince a hitter to come, and something above that to get a homegrown, legacy-type player away from the Yankees. Beating the Yankees by 50 cents wasn’t going to get it done.
Still, the reaction around the majors was, well, what it always is. How could they do it? They are going to regret it. This is craziness on steroids. Most just pointed to the recent tale of woe when it comes to mega-deals:
Pujols is the player tied with Cano at 10 years and $240 million. He is a fallen star just two years into a pact that — without a reversal — will be worse even than Rodriguez’s perhaps.
Prince Fielder was traded after just two seasons of his nine-year Tigers deal with Detroit having to kick in $30 million to facilitate a trade to Texas, meaning Fielder cost the Tigers $76 million for two seasons.
Rodriguez is four years from the end of his contract, near the conclusion of his baseball skills and at legal war against MLB and the Yankees. And, if you remember, the Rangers were so anxious to get rid of his first mega-deal (10 years at $252 million) they agreed to include $71 million in the deal to the Yankees. Thus, Texas essentially paid $133 million for three years of A-Rod and three last-place finishes.
Reds first baseman Joey Votto is just starting his 10-year, $225 million extension now at age 30 and, as the executive said, “come on, in a few years we will be saying what an albatross it is. Just like we will with Robbie Cano, and I love Robbie Cano. But no way that contract works out long term.”
In fact, one of the first reactions from most executives spoken to about Cano’s signing with the Mariners was their expectation that in some short period Seattle will be looking to trade Cano. That the contract won’t work.
Because it doesn’t make the Mariners winners, or because Cano is unhappy so far off baseball’s beaten path, or because the salary is debilitating for Seattle to make other moves, or some combination of all of that.
“Doesn’t it feel like you will have the first despondent player on the way to his introductory press conference?” the executive said. “He had to take the $240 million, but you know he didn’t want to leave for a bad ballpark with the worst travel in the league. You are always on a plane when you play for the Mariners. He went from the center of the universe to Pluto, and how soon will it be before he wants to get off of Pluto?”
Of the 40 largest total packages signed in big league history before this offseason, one-quarter have been traded during the life of the deal (Rodriguez, Fielder, Manny Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Alfonso Soriano, Mike Hampton, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jose Reyes).
Then there is this: A-Rod left the Mariners and they won an AL record 116 games. He left the Rangers and they went from 71 wins to 89. Pujols left the Cardinals and they arguably have been the NL’s best team since. The Red Sox traded Gonzalez and Crawford and became champions.
In other words, there is life after abandonment. The Yankees don’t have the farm system to thrive post-Cano without throwing their wallet at the problem. So they are avoiding one problem (10 years with Cano) with others — seven years for Jacoby Ellsbury, five years for Brian McCann and three years for Carlos Beltran, all of whom come with various medical worries.
Still, as one Yankees official said about why the team didn’t just go 10 years with Cano as they did with A-Rod: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
But you should bet on some team continuing to be fooled by fill in the blank year after year.
Dysfunction at the top: Eric Wedge, others point to trouble in Mariners’ front office
The Mariners’ front office is plagued by “total dysfunction and a lack of leadership,” according to former manager Eric Wedge. Wedge and other former and current team employees describe problems at the top of the organization.
December 8, 2013
By Geoff Baker
Seattle Times staff reporter
Eric Wedge sat simmering in a Safeco Field conference room as his bosses laid into him.
It was 14 months ago, two days after the 2012 season, and Mariners president Chuck Armstrong unleashed what Wedge calls “a ferocious, venom-filled tirade” about the team, coaches and players. Armstrong told him the club “sickened” him and was “disgusting” and “disturbing,” while Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln agreed and added choice barbs of his own.
Wedge said general manager Jack Zduriencik had assured him earlier that the duo was pleased with the 75-87 team, winners of eight more games than in 2011 and 14 more than in 2010.
Now, he felt blindsided and let down by Zduriencik. He waited until Lincoln was done, then, unable to hold back, let him and Armstrong know how he felt.
“It got real heated,” Wedge said. “I started fighting back with Chuck and Howard and it got loud.”
Wedge chided them for their dugout meddling, poor leadership and lack of faith in struggling young players. He argued the Mariners had revamped their foundation and won more despite a roster full of rookies, millions in payroll cuts and an upper management that never fully bought into its own rebuilding plan.
He says he told them: “All I’ve done is exactly what I said I was going to do and all you’ve done is the exact opposite.”
Things got so heated, Lincoln walked out.
“I think,” Wedge said, “that was the beginning of the end.”
Just more than a year later, the Mariners have lost another 91 games and hired Lloyd McClendon as Zduriencik’s third manager, the team’s seventh since 2007. They are trying — rather desperately, some have suggested — to counter a wave of negative public perception after years of losing, turnover, turmoil and reluctance to raise their payroll beyond the $100 million mark of previous seasons.
The team now has reportedly opened its pocketbook for a 10-year, $240 million deal with free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano and heads to the annual baseball winter meetings in Orlando this week hoping for additional deals to make them relevant again.
But for Wedge and others no longer with the team, the dramatic financial splash comes too late. It also doesn’t change problems at the very top of the organization — problems they say got the team to this point in the first place.
Wedge left at season’s end, fleeing what he describes as “total dysfunction and a lack of leadership.”
The sentiment is echoed by current and past Mariners baseball operations employees beyond Wedge, who has remained silent since leaving and only reluctantly agreed to talk. More than two dozen people who spoke to The Times say any manager — and the players under him — will fall short of success without a halt to ongoing interference from Lincoln and whomever succeeds Armstrong, who will retire Jan. 31.
The sources also raised serious doubts about the GM tasked with reversing years of futility in one offseason, saying Zduriencik has kept his job only because Lincoln and Armstrong won’t admit another critical hiring mistake. The sources question Zduriencik’s credentials to properly build a roster, saying he sold Lincoln and Armstrong on hiring him five years ago with a job application package prepared not by him, but by recently dismissed Mariners special assistant Tony Blengino.
Lincoln, Armstrong and Zduriencik were invited to respond to these accusations. Armstrong declined. Lincoln and Zduriencik issued general responses.
“Eric has mischaracterized much of what occurred over the past three baseball seasons,” Lincoln said of Wedge. “I am not going to try to recite private conversations from the past.”
Zduriencik declined to address specifics raised by Wedge and former team officials.
“I am aware of some of the comments of former members of our baseball operations group, and I find them unjust, misleading and one-sided,” Zduriencik said. “I don’t believe the airing of ‘dirty laundry’ should take place in the public arena, so I am not going to talk about internal meetings, daily conversations and personnel decisions.”
One of those speaking out is Blengino, the former No. 2 in Zduriencik’s front office. Blengino, who was working for the Milwaukee Brewers with Zduriencik at the time, said he authored virtually the entire job application package Zduriencik gave the Mariners in 2008, depicting a dual-threat candidate melding traditional scouting with advanced statistical analysis.
Blengino said he prepared the package because he was versed in the hot trend of using advanced stats for team decisions.
“Jack portrayed himself as a scouting/stats hybrid because that’s what he needed to get the job,” Blengino said. “But Jack never has understood one iota about statistical analysis. To this day, he evaluates hitters by homers, RBI and batting average and pitchers by wins and ERA. Statistical analysis was foreign to him. But he knew he needed it to get in the door.”
The Seattle Times obtained a copy of the package, which talks of rebuilding with minimal pain through shrewd drafts, undervalued free agents and a “vast pipeline of young, homegrown star-caliber talent.” Advanced stats charts ranked every major-leaguer and top minor-leaguers, while computer spreadsheets depicted each team’s positional depth and payroll commitments.
Zduriencik declined to speak about his stats knowledge or Blengino’s role in the package.
It’s hardly unusual in the corporate world for trusted assistants to design job applications. But after initial success, Zduriencik had a slew of failed player moves — coinciding with his eventual decision to push Blengino out.
“Jack tried to destroy me,” Blengino said.
Things started off well in 2009, with Blengino arriving alongside Zduriencik from the Brewers and assuming a powerful role of raising the Mariners’ talent any way possible. He coordinated big-picture elements of the annual draft, integrating advanced analytics into selections.
Blengino advised Zduriencik on key moves in a surprising 85-win first season, including the signature acquisition of outfielder Franklin Gutierrez.
“It was the Jack and Tony show that first year,” a former front-office member said.
But things unraveled in a turmoil-plagued 2010, when the Mariners lost 101 games.
Zduriencik fired manager Don Wakamatsu. Blengino said Zduriencik — needing to further finger-point — soon marginalized him as “the stats guy” despite his scouting background and the draft work that earned him a team “President’s Award” in 2009.
In 2011, Zduriencik imported longtime associate Ted Simmons as a senior adviser and increased responsibilities for second-year assistant GM Jeff Kingston, pushing Blengino from his inner circle. Zduriencik received a three-year contract extension that August and Blengino said Zduriencik told him: “Now, we do things my way.”
Blengino said Zduriencik became obsessed with power hitters, ignoring defense, baserunning and roster construction. He said the GM also dismissed the importance of evaluating players within the context of their contract values.
Zduriencik then made him “look like an ass” in front of baseball operations brass in spring training 2012 after Blengino gave a presentation on possible benefits from advances in computerized hitting data.
“He nitpicked about font sizes and column widths,” Blengino said. “He did what he always does and made fun of something he couldn’t understand.”
Zduriencik began working more from his suite overlooking Safeco Field, holding one-on-one meetings out of earshot of team offices.
“He began operating much like the Wizard of Oz, wielding his power from behind a curtain,” Blengino said. “Intimidating, manipulating, and pitting people against one another. Berating them for no particular reason. He set out to eliminate any type of disagreement, accumulating yes-men who meekly go along with his program.”
Blengino was sent home to Wisconsin last winter, to a lesser scouting role. He was told in August his contract wasn’t being renewed.
The Mariners from 2011 to 2013 traded Doug Fister, Michael Pineda, Steve Delabar, Erik Bedard, Mike Carp and John Jaso for limited returns.
“The way the team operates now,” Blengino said, “is totally different from what it was.”
Another original Zduriencik front-office member, former professional scouting director Carmen Fusco, was fired in September 2010 after the Josh Lueke controversy. Zduriencik claimed he hadn’t known that Lueke, one of four players acquired from Texas in that summer’s blockbuster trade of pitcher Cliff Lee, had previously pleaded no contest to a charge of false imprisonment with violence in a rape case.
Lincoln and Armstrong initially said they accepted Zduriencik’s explanation of incomplete research by staffers. But former Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair later said he’d warned Zduriencik about Lueke beforehand.
The Mariners stuck to their story and Fusco was fired by phone as he scouted in Tennessee.
“He told me, ‘You didn’t do anything. It wasn’t my call,’ ” Fusco said of the fateful call from Zduriencik.
Fusco said Lueke was briefly discussed during the call. But Fusco insists anybody using Lueke to justify his dismissal is off-base.
For one thing, he wasn’t even kept in the loop on the immediate trade discussions. Also, he said, the Mariners knew about Lueke’s past before the deal.
Fusco had seen a pretrade report by Mariners scout Frank Mattox in the team’s central database and “he clearly had in his reports that Lueke had trouble with the law.”
Mattox died of a heart attack last year.
Fusco said he told the team’s human resources department he’d been scapegoated and later received a terse call from Zduriencik, asking what he was doing. Though they’d been friends since schoolboy days in Pennsylvania, they haven’t spoken since.
Numerous unhappy scouts and executives have quit or been fired by the Zduriencik regime.
“They’ve humiliated people they’ve let go,” a current scout said. “And the ones still here hate it. They hate the way they’re treated.”
One of those to quit was longtime vice-president (international scouting) Bob Engle, who landed future major-leaguers like Felix Hernandez, Pineda and Shin-Soo Choo. Engle was named baseball’s Scout of the Year in 2011, but relations with Zduriencik were strained.
Things worsened in 2012 as Engle’s crew ran up against Zduriencik’s directives to spend money differently on international players after Major League Baseball imposed new limits.
Zduriencik wanted more cheaper “diamond-in-the-rough” prospects rather than a few premium players. The respected Engle had organizational clout, but things changed in September 2012 when Zduriencik fired Engle’s right-hand man, Patrick Guerrero, the team’s top Latin American scout.
Engle was furious. Though 65 years old and reluctant to make a career-altering move, he declined a contract extension. Within weeks, he and Guerrero landed equivalent jobs with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Engle declined to comment, but Guerrero said Zduriencik told him he’d done nothing wrong and it wasn’t the GM’s decision to fire him.
But Guerrero said he doesn’t believe that explanation and said Zduriencik “probably” fired him to force out Engle because they often pushed back against his directives.
“They don’t want people to tell them the truth about what they want to do,” Guerrero said. “They want people who tell them what they want to hear.”
But as tough as Zduriencik could be on those working under him, Wedge said he was the opposite with Lincoln and Armstrong.
Wedge said when he became manager in November 2010, Armstrong confided the Mariners were in their worst shape ever and upper management would patiently support a true rebuild.
Things changed after a slow start to 2011. Four people who worked closely with Wedge say he was inundated with directives from above: that Lincoln and Armstrong took notes nightly during games and passed them to Zduriencik, who relayed them to Wedge in his office and expected him to work on it with players.
Wedge confirmed the sources’ version of events.
“Howard would run things through Chuck and Jack all the time,” Wedge said.
The sources say Wedge implored Zduriencik to stand up to unreasonable demands, like Lincoln and Armstrong wanting Felix Hernandez and other pitchers to throw live batting practice between starts so position players could work on bunting and situational hitting.
Or wanting more early fielding work last September, which Wedge refused because team trainers warned too many players were worn out.
Wedge was tired of defending young players to Lincoln and Armstrong, who ripped them in meetings with him. He became frustrated that Zduriencik worried about his own job and wouldn’t support him.
Wedge described how, starting in 2011, Armstrong would visit his office and gravely say things like: “Howard sent me down here and ... we’ve got to win.”
Wedge would shrug in agreement, telling him he wanted to win every night. “But he’s like, ‘No, we’ve really got to win. We’ve got to go 5-2 on this trip. We’ve got to win tonight.’ ”
Wedge reminded Lincoln and Armstrong they could ease struggles by adding payroll and proven players.
“They’re not going to take a chance of operating at a loss,” Wedge said. “Which is fine. But come on. There’s going to be a learning curve with guys right out of college.”
Wedge sensed Zduriencik aligning himself with Lincoln and Armstrong after the 2012 season-ending blowout, leaving him in a position of having to ignore orders with no support from his GM.
“If I did what they wanted,” Wedge said, “it would be a joke of an organization.”
Relations with Zduriencik worsened during the 2013 season’s final week after the GM told The Times he’d wait until the season ended to discuss Wedge’s future. Wedge was irked Zduriencik went public, feeling that furthered confusion for players about who’d manage and coach the team in 2014.
Wedge met Zduriencik in his private suite Thursday before the season’s final series. He wanted his status resolved before players left for the winter, but says Zduriencik began a point-by-point recitation of coaching staff issues.
“He kept saying more and more stuff about early work, about bullpen (sessions), about our starting pitchers,” Wedge said. “You can pick anything to death if you want to. But I’m not going to sit there and let him crush our coaches. I said ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this. Shame on you.’ ”
Wedge told Zduriencik he’d honor his contract through season’s end, then walked out.
“I’m not going to stand by and let them treat other human beings the way they treat human beings,” he said. “I’m not going to stand by and let them disrespect the game.”
Lincoln and Zduriencik declined to comment on internal discussions and stood by previous statements they were surprised Wedge left. “Eric decided to quit on the final weekend of the season despite knowing that we were prepared to extend his contract through the 2014 season as one of the best-paid managers in the game,” Lincoln said. “I was surprised by his decision because earlier in September, Eric came to my office, told me he ‘felt great,’ was — in his words — ‘all in,’ and wanted to know before the end of the season if the Mariners would extend his contract.”
Zduriencik said he’s excited about new manager McClendon and his staff.
“In a short time, Lloyd McClendon has captured and gained a great deal of credibility and respect within our organization,” Zduriencik said. “We are all looking forward to him and his staff wrapping their arms around these players and helping to create a winner in Seattle. That is our sole focus and anything else is an unneeded distraction.”
Wedge says he’s relieved to have moved on, despite potentially walking away from another $2 million — the amount he earned last season and could have received in a 2014 extension — in favor of unemployment. His experience was “night and day” from managing in Cleveland, where Indians president Mark Shapiro, GM Chris Antonetti and others “care about the right things.”
“Neither one played, but they know and respect the game,” Wedge said. “They respect how hard the game is. They know how to communicate and they’re smart people.”
Wedge and his wife, Kate, are still living here while their children finish the school year. He maintains it’s a great city and baseball market, and a club that has resources and a promising talent base.
He’d still love to manage again. After failing to land a managerial job with the Chicago Cubs, he’s weighing an East Coast television analyst offer.
“I’m no great person, but I do care about the right things,” he said. “I work hard to do the right thing. And what’s happened here is wrong. What’s happened to the players and coaches here is wrong. What’s happened to this organization is wrong. It’s so wrong. I can’t put it any better than that. At some point in time, somebody’s got to stand up to them.”
Mariners under GM Jack Zduriencik
Zduriencik has hired three managers in his Mariners tenure: Don Wakamatsu (2009-10), Eric Wedge (2011-12) and Lloyd McClendon (current).
“the product of upper-level mismanagement that turned a booming franchise into a perpetual bottom dweller ”
In quest for credibility and respect, Seattle went high-risk by overpaying Robinson Cano
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2013,
The 10-year, $240 million contract Robinson Cano signed with the Seattle Mariners on Friday is going to be a complete disaster, and anyone who says otherwise is ignoring history, aging curves and all other matters of rational thought. By now, everyone in baseball, down to the most willfully ignorant people, understand that free agents are like fruit. Early on, at their ripest, they can be wondrous and worth every penny. Then they start to get soft, and the wrinkles come, and the mold, and then my God what is that awful monstrosity.
Contrary to popular opinion, that is not the most important part of the story of how a lifelong New York Yankee absconded 3,000 miles west to what has devolved into a baseball ghost town. Even the Mariners, with absentee ownership, a team president on the way out and a lame-duck general manager, recognize that lavishing a 31-year-old with a decade-long contract is a move that considers the baseball implications secondary, maybe tertiary.
Here is the truth about the third-biggest contract in sports history: For everyone, respect trumped better judgment.
Rather than spend his career in pinstripes, where he is far likelier to win another championship, Cano watched the Yankees – the freaking Yankees, professional sports' great monetary monolith – offer him all of $7 million more than Jacoby Ellsbury. He told them to take their seven years and $160 million, and all 204 home runs he hit over the last nine seasons, and shove it. He was not going to skulk back to the Bronx with tens of millions more in tax-free dollars left in Seattle. It wasn't the money so much as what the money meant. He got the Albert Pujols deal, and Albert Pujols is merely one of the best players ever.
The disrespect heaped on the Mariners is self-inflicted, the product of upper-level mismanagement that turned a booming franchise into a perpetual bottom dweller. Losing becomes a chicken-and-egg thing, whereby nobody wants to come to a franchise because it's losing and it keeps losing because nobody wants to come to it. Nothing like $240 million to, at the very least, interrupt the notion that the Mariners are incapable of playing with the big boys. They gave the biggest free agent on the market a 150 percent premium on the Yankees' last bid. That doesn't happen.
Ironically, the Yankees were done in by their own deeds. They built free agency into this process of absurd riches and stratospheric prices, and suddenly they were raging against the idea that Cano deserved to be paid like one of the best players in the game. And all because it took their own mistakes – Alex Rodriguez's 10-year albatross especially, – to recognize the foolhardiness in long-term contracts foisted on aging assets. Their tack with Cano was smart, yes. It was prudent, sure. The Yankees will not regret losing him, not as long as they remind themselves how to develop a player or two. Because it is New York, of course, it will be remembered as something altogether different: The Yankees wanting Cano to genuflect to their brand and their power, and Cano refusing to offer commensurate respect.
Instead, he will carve out his niche in Seattle, a place many believed had too much going against it. There is the 274-374 record over the last four seasons. And the 3,583-mile distance between Seattle and San Pedro de Macoris, his hometown in the Dominican Republic. And that Cano hired Jay Z as his agent specifically to handle his marketing, and companies are far likelier to want the Yankee than the Mariner. Ultimately, what Seattle gave him – the crown to King County – mattered most.
Assurances came, too, that the Mariners would surround him with more talent, and that is where this may get even more interesting. As Yahoo Sports first reported Wednesday, the Mariners want to trade for Rays ace David Price and may be willing to give up top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker, the sort of player who could persuade Tampa Bay to deal the left-hander. Moreover, the Cano signing leaves second baseman Nick Franklin jobless, and Walker and Franklin constitutes the beginning of a very strong package, the sort of which could lead to a Felix Hernandez-David Price-Hisashi Iwakuma dream rotation.
And if they're really dreaming, and Kansas City signs Carlos Beltran, the Royals may look to part with DH Billy Butler, whom the Mariners have long coveted, and Seattle could focus a deal around young left-hander James Paxton, whom the Royals like. And then, suddenly, not only are they looking at a rotation that includes Price, whom they'd also prevent from going to division rival Texas, thus adding a modicum more value to their end of the deal, they've got a lineup with Cano, Butler, perhaps another free agent bat like Nelson Cruz, the vastly underrated Kyle Seager, potential impact catcher Mike Zunino and young shortstop Brad Miller. Even in a division with the Rangers and the loaded-up A's and the moneyed Angels, maybe, just maybe, there's enough there to win.
To make this Cano deal less of a disaster, that's exactly what the Mariners need to do: everything possible to win the next five years. Stretch the budget, exhaust scouting resources, pay out the wazoo for a new GM if need be, have a quick ax if first-year manager Lloyd McClendon isn't the right guy. Remind the baseball world that at one point there was nothing cooler than a backward Seattle Mariners cap.
That's what this Robinson Cano deal is for the Mariners: a shot at covering up those lost years. Unfortunately, mistakes tend to compound mistakes, and in order for this crazy-money, crazier-years gambit to work, the Mariners can only hope Cano is different than his predecessors, that he defies history and aging curves and does something completely irrational.
Log a rare victory for respect over better judgment.
The $240 million
question: Is Seattle best
for Jay Z client Robinson
So Cano goes across the country and they will tell you he’s going to make himself bigger than he ever was and make the Mariners as big as the Seahawks are right now in that city. Just don’t hop on one leg waiting for that to happen.
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2013, 1:39 AM
Robinson Cano now gets the money Jay Z and the band promised him, gets $240 million from the Seattle Mariners, gets the third-biggest contract in baseball history, gets 10 years from the Mariners at the age of 31, and once again shows you that Jerry Reinsdorf of the White Sox was absolutely right when he once said, and famously, that all it takes is one dumb owner to set the market in baseball.
In this case the dumb owner is Nintendo, usually a smart corporation, one of the few that owns a Major League Baseball team in this country. Maybe if this thing had dragged on a few more weeks, Jay Z would have delivered his new client, Cano, to Japan.
Or the moon.
Cano gets his money, does he ever, and nobody in this world would tell him to pass up $65 million more than the Yankees were willing to offer him, for a seven-year deal. But you have to know that in the end this wasn’t about what was best for Cano or his brand or his profile or the rest of his baseball career:
This was about keeping score.
So he goes across the country and they will tell you he’s going to make himself bigger than he ever was and make the Mariners as big as the Seahawks are right now in that city. Just don’t hop on one leg waiting for that to happen.
But he just had to get this kind of money and Jay Z and the guys in the band just had to deliver this kind of money so they could look like the big, powerful, head-banging movers and shakers in sports that they are desperate to be, in almost a flop-sweat way. They are probably heartbroken that they couldn’t get him the kind of money Alex Rodriguez got from the Yankees, the record-breaking dumb contract for all times.
Of course after that Arte Moreno gave Albert Pujols an equally dumb 10-year contract for slightly less money, and Mr. Moreno ought to send up a flare when he thinks he’s getting a great big bang for his buck on that one.
Big money for Cano, but a spotlight on him that is going to feel like a flashlight after New York City. This is nothing against Seattle, a wonderful American city. This is about Cano playing the rest of his career Out There. If he thinks it is going to make him the Michael Jordan of baseball — cue up the laugh track again on that notion — he should ask Junior Griffey what it was like in his prime when he was the most thrilling athlete in the game. Or ask his now-former teammate Ichiro Suzuki if he felt he was getting his props and his due for being one of the best hitters of all time.
At least Robinson Cano will now do something, with this move and the attention it gets him, that he never did for a single day in his career in Yankee pinstripes:
Get people to buy tickets to watch him play baseball.
This doesn’t mean the Yankees are going to stop this insane cycle of spending and long-term contracts, not in the same week when they essentially gave a catcher a six-year contract and gave Jacoby Ellsbury seven years and $153 million. But they could not retain any sort of credibility if they had actually even come close to matching the kind of contract they gave Rodriguez for no good reason after the 2007 season, bidding against themselves at the time.
At the same time the back end of Rodrigez’s deal makes them lose their collective minds on 161st St., they cannot do it all over again with Cano, who will break down eventually the way Alex Rodriguez has, and the way Albert Pujols already has in Anaheim. Or maybe he will be like a video game and keep going and going and going.
Again: This is more about keeping score than anything else. Once Boras got Alex Rodriguez $252 million from the Rangers and it was because it just had to be twice as much as Kevin Garnett had gotten from the Timberwolves at the time. And Ellsbury had to get more than Carl Crawford got when the Red Sox gave Crawford seven years and stupid money.
Oh, you bet Jay Z delivered here. Delivered Robinson Cano to Seattle. You think Boras couldn’t have done that?
Do the Yankees lose the guy who’s been their most consistent hitter over time, and was their best hitter last year? They do. But they could not even go to eight years with this guy and act as if they were learning a lesson on past contracts. So they give Carlos Beltran a third year and figure it out with him and Alfonso Soriano. Being tied to Beltran for three years is a lot smarter than being tied to Cano forever.
Jay Z and the band were never going to convince the public that Robinson Cano was an iconic figure in baseball, so the next best thing, once they found these suckers on the other side of the country, was to get him iconic money.
The funniest line I heard about this was somebody from another American League team, when it appeared that the talks between Seattle and Cano’s people had broken down.
The guy said, “Uh oh, now the Yankees are stuck with him.”
Of course the Yankees didn’t want to lose Cano. They couldn’t let him play them for suckers. Jay Z found the suckers in Seattle. Maybe he ought to write a song about this for Cano: Emerald City State of Mind.